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Fort Street approaching Ambassador Bridge on the U.S.-Canada border. Credit: Erik Paul Howard

Borders are dynamic and interdependent within a rainbow of variables. Though they present and are enforced as objective and unmoving.

It is our values, our collective imagination, our proximity and relationship one with another across time that designs, constructs and maintains our boundaries. Our dexterity in designing them can determine a community’s health.

Click to view larger photos. Left to right: The sun sets on downtown Detroit in 2019. All Saints Catholic Church undergoes demolition as part of the Gordie Howe International Bridge crossing construction along I-75 in Southwest Detroit in 2022. The former Boblo Boat, the Ste. Claire, sits docked along the Rouge River at Dix Avenue in Southwest Detroit in 2016. Photo credit: Erik Paul Howard

In spaces across Southwest Detroit, we can see people navigating and negotiating these boundaries — physical and social, inherited and designed — with varying levels of success and comfort. This is true of porches, corners and sidewalks. They hold history and development.

Boundaries are scaffolds.

They underwrite our routines and how we navigate them is critical. Living in Southwest Detroit offers a persistent decision to live within, be limited by, push against, bend, break, mold and shape boundaries.

Space is story.

On porches, in yards and through fences the access is visual, the boundary is sculpture, the currency is social, and the key is consent.

Click to view larger photo. Wrought iron, flowers and chairs adorn yards and porches across Southwest Detroit. Photo credit: Erik Paul Howard Credit: Erik Paul Howard Credit: Erik Paul Howard

Space is history and imagined futures. An ecosystem within our climate of community. Its boundaries are as much about what we let out as what we let in. It is within these layers of time and origin and orientation that Southwest Detroit’s brand of community is framed. Oh, the boundaries and borders we’ve crossed to be here, together. To be neighbors.

Click to view larger photos. Left to right: Layers of paint from over the years are revealed after being removed from a garage door to be repurposed into jewelry. A mural installation on Elsmere along The Alley Project honors artist Jordan “Tead” Vaughn in 2017. Grass provides a buffer as it rolls from the road into the pond at Woodmere Cemetery in Southwest Detroit in 2021. Photo credit: Erik Paul Howard

In community we consider our boundaries with our heads and decorate them with our hearts. Sometimes this offers a warm embrace, other times a warning. While design is a language that we don’t all speak, it is often intuitive to read.

Click to view larger photos. Families pray, play, and prepare food inside their homes in Southwest Detroit. Photo credit: Erik Paul Howard
Click to view larger photos. Residents display symbols of national identity and pride in their yards and public spaces around the community. Photo credit: Erik Paul Howard

Erik Paul Howard is a photographer living in Southwest Detroit, finding his truest self while immersed in discussion, relationship, reading and creating that centers collective imagining of our futures. These days, this is pushed along by the works of Ben Okri, Arlene Goldbard, adrienne maree brown and Michael Karlberg. Reach Erik at erikpaulhoward@gmail.com or on social media @erikpaulhoward.